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Diabetes, Hypertension and Alzheimer's Disease

A Dangerous Combination


Updated January 21, 2009

Illustration © A.D.A.M.

High blood pressure can be dangerous for people with Alzheimer's disease.

Illustration © A.D.A.M.
If you have Alzheimer's disease, you already know that it's important to eat well, exercise regularly and get adequate rest. Did you know, however, that it's also crucial for you to manage your diabetes and hypertension, if you have them?

A study by the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain and the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York found that individuals with Alzheimer's disease who also have diabetes and/or hypertension may die sooner than those with Alzheimer's who do not have these additional conditions.

The study of 323 people found that after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, those with diabetes were twice as likely to die sooner than those who did not have diabetes. Those with hypertension were 2.5 times more likely to die sooner than those with normal blood pressure.

A study at the University of Washington looked in more detail at why hypertension and diabetes are so harmful for those with dementia. The researchers completed autopsies of 221 men and women and found that among the brains of those with dementia, one third of the brains had small, cumulative blood vessel damage that often occurs as a result of hypertension and/or diabetes. This small blood vessel damage is often due to multiple tiny strokes that are so small that the person has no sensation of them when they happen individually. The effects only become apparent after an accumulation over time.

The good news about this research is that both hypertension and diabetes often are controllable health factors. For more information about how to gain control over these conditions, see the following articles:


Diabetes, High Blood Pressure May Cause People with Alzheimer's Disease to Die Sooner. American Academy of Neurology. November 3, 2008. http://www.aan.com/press/index.cfm?fuseaction=release.view&release=668

Significant Dementia Risk Attributable to Small Blood Vessel Damage. Newswise. April 3, 2008. http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/539410/?sc=dwhr

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